The Interpreter: Coping with Adrenaline – Interview with Filomena Furlan

Watch Filomena on YouTube (Italian) –

I had the pleasure to work in team with the interpreter Filomena Furlan in December 2019, for a very challenging conference. There was great synergy between us right from the start, and she told me something that deserves to be shared with all of you. That’s why I called her again for an interview.

You said that you like interpreting more than translation, because you are always looking for adrenaline. Please say something more about this feeling and how you cope with adrenaline when it becomes too much.

What a nice question! Yes, I prefer interpreting for this reason. I grew up as a professional athlete, and challenges are a great driver for me. In the interpreting booth there is always a lot of adrenaline, because you never know what awaits you and the skills needed to focus and interpret are a continuous challenge. When the adrenaline becomes too much… Well, we need to prevent this from happening. To prevent it, creating an atmosphere of collaboration instead of competition with your colleague is essential.

Was your passion for your job also a driver to overcome difficult moments?

Yes, my job and sports always acted as a gate out of difficult situations that I have faced in my life.

You come from a bilingual family. Is it still challenging to switch from a language to another when you work as an interpreter?

Yes, it’s still difficult, but it also depends on the language combination. If it’s about the two most natural languages for me, I mean Italian and Arabic, it is surely easier than with other combinations like Arabic-English, Arabic-French or Arabic-German.

You also work as an over-the-phone interpreter for the NUE (the Italian Emergency Number). What was the most exciting moment you lived through while providing this service?

This kind of work is really special and always exciting – The main feature is that you work in an emergency setting. When you answer the phone, the NUE operator tells you the language combination required for the service and I start interpreting the needs of the person who contacted the NUE, who will then be redirected to the next step (police office, first aid, firefighters, etc). The situations are always different from one another: from theft, car accident, a foreign Coast Guard notifying the presence of a boat, an uprising in an immigration centre, to a call for an ambulance… This service made me think of the complex multi-dimension of reality, where many situations happen at the same moment. You clearly understand it when the phone keeps ringing and each time you answer they are calling you from a different place with a different need from the one you dealt with before. It looks banal. Maybe it is. For me, however, it is something extraordinary that deserves reflection and reminds me how human we are.

Thanks again to the interpreter Filomena Furlan, you will find her on her Italian-Arabic YouTube channel Pillole di Arabo.

Interview by Silvia Cicciomessere, Interpreter and Translator in Rome.